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EPA Drinking Water Enforcement Response Policy

Enforcement targeting under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is a system-based management tool that identifies those public water systems of national significance for compliance assistance and/or enforcement action.

This approach is designed to focus on public water systems (PWSs) with health-based violations and those PWSs with a history of violations across multiple rules.

Why This Policy?

The goals of this enforcement response policy (ERP) are:

  • consider water system compliance status comprehensively;
  • align violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act within a prioritization that is more protective of public health;
  • ensure continued efforts to hold water systems accountable for compliance and to provide a mechanism to ensure a timely return to compliance;
  • increase the effectiveness of state and federal enforcement targeting efforts by providing a calculation method to determine the comprehensive noncompliance status and identify those PWSs not meeting national expectations as set by the EPA;
  • To recognize the validity of informal enforcement response efforts while insuring that if these efforts have proven ineffective at returning a system to compliance, that enforceable and timely action is taken by the States in the first instance or by EPA if the State has failed to act.

This EPA strategy provides another way to identify systems that could benefit from our capacity development and sustainability assistance programs.

How Does This Help?

This system-specific method is intended to ensure consistency and fairness in prioritizing PWSs for enforcement actions. The enforcement response policy re-emphasizes a focus on return to compliance (RTC) rather than simply addressing a violation. The policy is geared to increase our effectiveness in the protection of public health. It helps to prioritize and direct enforcement response to systems with the most serious issues by considering a PWS's compliance history in a comprehensive way.

How Does the Enforcement Targeting Tool Work?

The enforcement targeting tool (ETT) is the calculation method for determining a PWS's enforcement priority points. It helps to identify and prioritize systems for enforcement response.

This system-based approach uses a formula that enables the prioritization of PWS by assigning each violation a weight or number of points based on the EPA-assigned threat to public health. For example, a violation of an acute maximum contaminant level (MCL) will carry more weight than that of a consumer confidence report (CCR) violation. Based on this approach, we and the EPA are able to target resources to address those water systems that have the highest priority problems.

The ETT formula provides a method for identifying water systems having the highest total noncompliance across all rules, within a designated period of time (with a higher weight placed on health based violations). The formula calculates a score for each system based on open-ended violations and violations that have occurred over the past 5 years, but does not include violations that have returned to compliance or are on the path to compliance through a specified enforcement action. The path to compliance is the status of a water system that has been placed under an enforceable action to return it to compliance.

Violations Considered

The formula considers only those violations that are related to federally regulated contaminants. State-specific violations are not included in determination of a system's ETT score. The formula provides a rank-order of all PWSs based on the total points assigned for each violation and the length of time since the first unaddressed violation.

Factors behind the Formula

The factors of the formula are:

  • The severity of the violation, which is based on a modification of Public Notification tiers, as set forth in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations at Part 141, Subpart Q, Public Notification of Drinking Water Violations, Section 141.201.
  • The severity or weight of the violation is highest for acute contaminant health based violations, with a lower weight for chronic and other health based violations (and nitrate monitoring and total coliform repeat monitoring violations), and with the lowest weighting for other monitoring, reporting, and other violations.
  • The number of years that a system’s violations have been unaddressed

Calculation Method

For each public water system, a point score of noncompliance is calculated using the formula:

Sum (S1 + S2 + S3 + … ) + n

The total points for each violation are added together, and a time factor is added to achieve the total score for the water system, where:

S = violation severity factor:

  • 10 points for each acute health-based violation
  • 5 points for each:
    • Total Coliform Rule (TCR) repeat monitoring violation,
    • Nitrate monitoring and reporting violation, or
    • other health-based violation.
  • 1 point for any other violation

n = number of years that the system’s oldest violations have been unaddressed (0–5 points)

number of months of oldest violation to ETT calculation date n = points
less than 12 months 0 points
12 months - 23 months 1 point
24 months - 35 months 2 points
36 months - 47 months 3 points
48 months - 59 months 4 points
60 months 5 points

This approach streamlines the effectiveness of the program and is most protective of public health while also improving enforcement targeting and compliance.

The Enforcement Response Policy

The enforcement targeting tool (ETT) establishes the universe of systems on a national level that have unaddressed violations over the previous five years. The enforcement response policy (ERP) is then used to identify the subset of those systems considered to be in nationally significant noncompliance. The enforcement response policy includes a model for escalating responses to violations and provides a definition of timely and appropriate actions once a PWS is identified as part of the targeted SNC list.

What Is Meant by "Timely Response"?

Once a PWS is identified as a national enforcement priority on the targeted list, an appropriate action enforcement action and return to compliance (RTC) is required within two calendar quarters to be considered timely. However, regardless of a water system’s position on our enforcement target list, the EPA expects us to act immediately on acute, health-based violations and subsequently confirm the PWS's return to compliance.

Enforcement Response Policy Schedule

Based on the score determined through the enforcement targeting tool, systems with a score of 11 or higher will be assigned an enforcement response policy schedule. The ERP schedule documents our activities in the compliance review and enforcement action referral.

Every week the Public Drinking Water Section data administrators extract the data and identify those systems needing ERP review for possible RTC and enforcement action.  Those systems found to need ERP review will be given compliance schedules in the Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS). Systems can monitor TCEQ's activities by viewing their compliance schedule on Drinking Water Watch (DWW).